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Published: August 12th 2021
Mural in Chinatown, and a sad sign of the times. Violence against Asians has increased since the pandemic began.
Check out my prior blog entry
for more information my decision to resume limited and cautious travel, and why we chose New York.
We planned to spend only 2.5 days at our destination because we weren't comfortable leaving our elderly cat alone for too long. Looking at hotel prices, I found a surprisingly reasonable rate at the Holiday Inn near Wall Street. The hotels that cater to business travelers must really be hurting with business travel not trending upwards anytime soon. Since we were staying in Lower Manhattan, we decided to focus our activities in that area. For the entirety of our trip, we never ventured north of 31st St except in transit to and from LaGuardia Airport.
My first pandemic flight was a little nerve wracking. We flew via Charlotte both ways, and we paid a little extra for Premium Economy tickets on the Honolulu-Charlotte sectors so that we could have a little more space away from other passengers. On the outbound journey, we had a two-seater with nobody next to us and a wall behind us. This worked well for us as it was clear that there was no social distancing possible in the crowded Economy cabin behind us. The
This billboard atop a Buddhist temple made for a rather odd sight.
layover in Charlotte was a little uncomfortable as this was the first time since the pandemic hit that I was in an indoor space with so many people around me. Premium Economy was not available on the short hop between Charlotte and LaGuardia, and it was a little uncomfortable having a stranger beside me and other people close by in the rows in front and behind us. We were upgraded to First Class (with lie flat seats) on the Charlotte-Honolulu sector and so we had no issues with social distancing on that flight. Thankfully, everyone adhered to the mask mandate. My ears ached as I have never had to keep my mask on for such a long time before.
Jeff and I arrived in NY early afternoon on Friday. As soon as we arrived at LaGuardia, we hit our first snag: we discovered that the direct bus service to Grand Central had been discontinued. If we wanted to avoid an expensive cab ride, we would have to take the public bus to the nearest subway station, and then connect to the subway to Manhattan. While this option was a little time consuming, it didn't bother me
Outdoor dining booths at Buddha Bodai Restaurant along Mott St. The booths were equipped with fans, menus, and a call button on the table.
much because I immediately got to interact with the subway. This may sound odd to many people, but being a big city boy, I feel as if a part of me is missing if I haven’t been on a subway for too long. I was deliriously happy to be taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the subway.
After checking in to our hotel, our first order of the day was to find some food. As we were near Chinatown, we made a beeline for one of our favorite restaurants - Buddha Bodai, a vegetarian kosher restaurant on Mott St. En route to Chinatown, we experienced our first culture shock when we observed how many people were unmasked. In Hawaiʻi, mask usage is still high, even outdoors, despite rules having been relaxed. Indoor mask usage is still mandatory in Hawaiʻi, so seeing the number of unmasked people indoors in NY was a bit of a shock. I felt somewhat uncomfortable. During my time in the city, I continued to wear my mask indoors, but I did remove my mask outdoors when I wasn’t around too many people.
At Buddha Bodai, we opted to sit at an outdoor
Our view from our table. As the sun set, the Empire State Building lit up and went through a lightshow.
booth. One of the novel ways New York coped with the pandemic was to close lanes on many streets in order to accommodate outdoor booths for restaurant patrons to dine at. Throughout our time in the city, we saw many such booths. Most booths were basic, others were done up nicely with plants and even fans to keep patrons cool. Many other restaurants simply put out tables and chairs on the sidewalks or on the street.
While dining on dim sum and other dishes at Buddha Bodai, my friend Ahmar contacted me, and we arranged to meet for drinks at a rooftop bar. I met Ahmar in Bagan in 2017
. We had gone to the same MBA program at UCLA, but 17 years apart. In Bagan, Ahmar helped me figure out how to ride an electric scooter, and we had fun riding our scooters to explore the myriad temples on the plain.
After dining, Jeff and I made our way to the rooftop bar at 27th St on foot. We walked through Chinatown, the Lower East Side, and Union Square. It just felt so good to be in a big city again. I’ve missed the vibe. Don’t get me wrong.
The High Line
At the end of The High Line was this building at Hudson Yards with an observation deck. While I was intrigued, I wasn't overly keen on paying money to go up there.
I enjoy my life in Honolulu, but my inner being aligns better with big city life.
At the rooftop bar, I had a pleasant time reconnecting with Ahmar. Throughout my time at the bar, the Empire State Building was in my direct line of sight. We watched it reflect the evening sun. After the sun set, we enjoyed a light show. The jet lag hit around 9.30pm, at which point we bade goodbye to Ahmar and headed back to our hotel.
Our first order of the day was to make our way to Greenwich Village to partake of the quintessential New York breakfast - bagels. Honolulu’s only decent bagel shop shut its doors a few months ago, and I was missing quality bagels badly. I got an everything bagel with lox cream cheese which we consumed in a small park nearby. After eating, we made our way to the Meatpacking District and waited for Jeff’s friend Kristine to arrive. Once she arrived, we walked up to The High Line and began our three mile round trip.
The High Line is an elevated train line that had fallen into disuse. Originally slated for demolition,
The High Line
Jeff posing alongside one of the statues.
it was instead restored into a 1.5 mile walking path lined with vegetation, sculptures, and other public spaces. Scanning the new developments on either side of the High Line, it was clear that this was a catalyst for other projects. The High Line ended at Hudson Yards. Waiting for us there were a high end mall and a structure called The Vessel, which looked to be a series of staircases laid out in a circular fashion. A little north of that, I saw a new skyscraper with a huge observation desk high up. We didn’t go to either place as we wanted to check out a public space at Hudson River that we spotted during our walk. With this goal in mind, we doubled back southbound.
We exited the High Line in the Chelsea area when the public space came into view. Crossing the West Highway, we saw that this was a park built over the Hudson River. Design-wise, it looked like a multi-level raised park built on funky shaped piles. We learned it was called Little Island. We also learned that it was fully booked and that there were no available slots before 9.30pm. Ah well. We decided
The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop, with unicorns and rainbows. Who can resist?
to walk south on the Hudson River Park before making our way back to Chinatown for a late lunch with Jeff’s cousin and his family.
After lunch, Jeff and I walked north to Greenwich Village where we had earlier spied an ice cream shop called Big Gay Ice Cream. We couldn’t resist checking it out because it had rainbows and unicorns, and we wanted to support an LGBT business. It turned out to be a fun little place. We ate our cones at the Stonewall National Monument across the street. There, we were entertained by drag queen who had a somewhat unexciting lip synching routine, but no matter, she was clearly living her best life. After that, we explored the Greenwich Village area by foot before heading back to the Financial District.
Our goal for the remainder of the afternoon was to seek out the famous statue of the girl staring down the Wall Street bull. Unbeknown to us, the girl statue had been moved from its original location staring down the charging bull to a new location nearby staring down the NY Stock Exchange. Jeff googled directions to the girl statue, while I googled the bull sculpture
Drag queen doing a not very inspiring routine. But, she was living her best life.
assuming it would lead us to the same place. This led to confusing and contradictory directions from our phones. To add to the confusion, some streets were closed for filming. We eventually found the bull statue, but no girl. There were two long queues of tourists - one queue lined up to take photos of the bull’s head, the other to pose with the bull’s testicles. We opted not to wait in line. Instead, we went back to our hotel for a quick nap.
That evening, we headed out for Malaysian food, which is similar to Singaporean food. I indulged in a roti canai appetizer and char kway teow (fried rice noodles). There aren’t any Singaporean or Malaysian food outlets in Honolulu so this was a special treat. After eating, we walked to the Brooklyn Bridge where we enjoyed the nighttime skyline. After that, we sought out the bull and girl statues and then called it a night.
Our first stop on our last full day was the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the former World Trade Center. That fateful day nearly 20 years is still etched vividly in my memory and I’m sure it
One of the pools built where twin towers once stood.
was the same for many other members of this site. I was living in Los Angeles at the time. I was woken up by a call from my brother. He told me what had happened and urged me to stay home as the planes were headed to LAX. I had recently lost my job, so I didn’t have anywhere to go. As I sat at home watching the horrific scenes unfold on television, I realized that this would push the US into an even longer recession and so I had to hunker down and prepare for long term unemployment. It was a period of my life I do not care to go through again.
We walked to the former WTC and waited in line with our tickets which we purchased earlier online. The museum staff let us in at 10am. The museum itself was deep underground. The first part of the museum focused on the WTC and its construction. The more interesting exhibits included insights into the design and construction of the WTC, a fire truck that had been damaged by debris, and parts of the structure that sustained direct hits from the aircraft. After viewing the outer exhibits,
We searched for this statue for quite a while. Originally, she was staring down the charging bull at Wall Street. We found the charging bull, but she was nowhere to be seen. We later learned that she had recently been moved to stare down the NYSE, so we sought her out there.
we wandered into other exhibits that detailed the events of the day, and what some of the victims experienced. It was quite intense and overwhelming, and after two hours we realized we were maxed out and that we would have to see the rest of the exhibits at a future visit. Exiting the museum, we walked around the two pools that had been constructed on the footprint of the twin towers. I wondered why this hasn’t been designated as a national park. It certainly deserves to be.
Our lunch stop that day was, once again, Buddha Bodai, this time to have lunch with Jeff’s college friend Darcy and her family. After lunch, we again headed back to Big Gay Ice Cream where we indulged in more ice cream. But, Jeff still wasn’t sated. He was craving Good Humor toasted almond bars, an ice cream he grew up with which is only available in the northeast. We found a supermarket that sold it in six packs. Jeff bought the box and started eating all six bars frantically before they melted. We walked around aimlessly while he ate, and we found ourselves back at Hudson River Park. We walked southwards with
Nasi lemak - coconut rice with anchovies, peanuts, eggs, and cucumber - is a Malaysian/Singaporean dish. We ate this at Koiptiam Restaurant on our last evening in NY.
a vague plan to jump onto the free Staten Island Ferry which passes by the Statue of Liberty. Along the way, we enjoyed the public space, including some piers that had been done up.
After over an hour of walking, we took a break and we both admitted our feet hurt. We’d both recently bought new shoes and they weren’t yet fully broken in. We googled our hotel and found that it was only eight minutes away. We decided to skip Staten Island.
After a much needed rest, we ventured out to the Bowery area for yet more Malaysian food. Ahmar joined us. I ate Nasi Lemak (coconut rice with anchovies, peanuts, and egg), while Jeff had vegetarian food and Ahmar had Hainanese Chicken Rice. Rather surprisingly, this restaurant had traditional Malay kuih (cakes) and so we tried a few. They hit the spot. After dinner, we headed back to our hotel. We flew home the next morning.
Thoughts on Pandemic Travel
This much needed trip helped ease me back into traveling. Truth be told, I would have preferred to travel to a less crowded area with a high vaccination rate, but high rental car prices
Ahmar, Jeff, and I after dinner.
made that plan unfeasible. There was much I was uncomfortable with, but it has also forced me to put more thought into what I am willing to do (or not do) in order to live with covid. Will I travel again in the near future? That is a resounding yes. Where I travel and what I do when I travel will evolve as we all learn more about the virus. I'm monitoring the situation in Singapore closely as I hope to travel there for a couple of weddings. Singapore currently isn't letting anyone - even fully vaccinated travelers - in without mandatory quarantine, and I'm not willing to spend two weeks cooped up in a hotel room.
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